In May, leaked video from the Spanish island of Ibiza showed Heinz-Christian Strache, then leader of Austria’s populist far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), offering state contracts in exchange for election help from a woman he believed was the niece of a wealthy Russian oligarch.
Strache quickly resigned, and the so-called “Ibiza affair” triggered the collapse of Austria’s government and early elections on Sept. 29. But in spite of that scandal, the FPÖ’s support seemed to remain remarkably stable throughout the summer—it was polling only about one percentage point lower than its pre-scandal average—so I spent a few weeks in Austria trying to understand why.
That exploration took me from an Alpine village in the state of Carinthia to a glitzy shopping mall in Upper Austria to a biergarten in Vienna’s Prater amusement park. I talked to the party’s die-hard fans about why they stuck by it—and even stuck by Strache in many cases. The explanations I heard were varied: some said it was all overplayed by the media, some said all politicians do such things, others argued that Strache had left the party so it was all already dealt with. In many ways, the party’s rhetoric—pioneered by the late Jörg Haider, the charismatic FPÖ leader who transformed it into an anti-immigration force in the 1980s—has helped inoculate its supporters against its own scandals.
You can read my piece for ICWA on that resilient voter base here.
In the final week of the campaign, however, things changed. A second Strache-related scandal, this time involving alleged misuse of party funds for personal purposes, dominated headlines. That second scandal seemingly proved too much for some FPÖ voters: the party won a disappointing 16 percent, nearly 10 points lower than its result two years ago.
For The Atlantic, I went to the FPÖ’s election-night party and talked to the people who still stood by it—and looked at the idea that, even after a disappointing result, the party has a remarkably high electoral floor. That story is available here.